Because they say "blink and you'll miss it," and so one day she woke up in the medlab with gauze covering chemical burns on her stomach and left hip, and she thought about the seventeen-year-long blink that had been her life. She thought about the cold gazes and whispered gossip from her mother's side of the family after she'd been diagnosed
(Mutant. What's that? No, no cure.)
and she thought about her father, trying to convince her that no, mom's leaving had nothing to do with her.
She'd never believed him, but now, some days, she wondered if it were true. If maybe that, too, was something she'd missed, and if all her mother had needed was an excuse.
Her. The inexcusable, and she heard Jean say softly, "She should wake up soon."
"Now soon enough?" Her voice was low and rough and she coughed, but it hurt so she stopped. Easy like that, no?
(Could say no. That might hurt, too)
Jean appeared next to her and smoothed a hand -- gloved -- over her forehead. "Hey," she murmured. "Are you in pain?"
"No," Rogue lied. It hurt. "Is Storm okay?"
"Storm's fine," Scott said from the doorway. He looked tired behind his glasses and she could see hints of Jean in the red reflection. Hints, and Jean didn't wear a ring anymore. "You could have been killed,
"Yeah," she mumbled, sleepy again. "Storm has pretty skin, don'cha think?"
Jean just sighed, and there wasn't much to say to that.
"What do you see?" she asked Scott at breakfast a few days later. He'd taken to sitting by her in the past year or so; he'd taken to giving her gentle looks and glimpsing touches that made her wonder if his fingertips were soft.
He shrugged. "A strawberry, with a toothpick stuck in it."
She pulled the toothpick out. "And now?"
"Exactly," she said, and ate the bit of fruit decisively.
Scott looked at her like she was crazy, but it was fond, too, so she didn't mind. "Did that actually mean something?"
"Well, yeah. Did you see a strawberry with a hole in it?"
"We've all got some sort of hole, Scott, mutants do. Whatever it is making us different. But nobody has to see them, unless we have toothpicks. Unless we have to have them."
"My visor would be a toothpick?"
"And my clothes, and Bradley's voice modifier. We're marked, don't you see?"
Scott frowned, and she didn't like it. He'd frowned enough, after Jean. "And this had something to do with why you go in the way of that acid stream?"
"Of course it does," she insisted, and a few years ago she'd never have imagined arguing with him like this. "Scott, what if it came down to your eyes or somebody else's, and it was up to you and what you did?"
"Rogue. That's different."
"I know it is. But can't you see how I don't see the scar I'll have as any big deal of a sacrifice for Storm?"
"Yes," he finally said. "I just don't like your line of thought."
"Neither do I," she muttered. "Neither do I."
If anyone were ever to ask, she would say it happened, or started, at least, three years after she first arrived, with Professor Xavier's stroke. Nobody ever asked, though, and nowadays, anyway, only the older students remembered the time when Jean and Scott were happy and perfect and in the kind of love she only dreamed of sharing with someone.
Some others might have said it was something else, that it maybe went all the way back to Logan. Or that it had nothing to do with anything or anyone but Jean and Scott, and that people could just fall out of love.
Rogue didn't believe that, at least not for them. It was the stroke in her mind, the stroke and how everything had changed after that. How Xavier recovered but lost most of his mental power, so Jean's telepathy became more vital than ever. How Scott seemed, from then on, bound and determined to take even more of the school's responsibilities onto himself, and how six months or so after the stroke, Jean didn't wear a ring and Scott lived in the room next to Rogue's.
Which was two years ago, and sometimes Rogue wondered how that happened. It didn't always seem like five years had gone by, like five years since she'd last been entirely unaware.
Of what she had then, and of what she truly was. She wondered if Scott and Jean would see these two years like that; if the stroke would become their own little milestone of regret.
"You remember Logan." She finished grading an English essay and reached for another.
And it hadn't been a question, really, but Scott looked up from his pile of geometry homework and snorted. "I don't think anyone's forgotten him."
"Why do you think he never came back?"
"He knew I'd kill him for taking my bike?"
"Liar," she teased gently. "You thought he was a good guy, admit it."
"Never," but he smiled ruefully.
"Yeah, yeah." She chewed on her pen and stared blankly at a sentence about "The Glass Menagerie." "Sometimes I wish I'd gotten out of here when I tried."
Scott stopped, and she didn't want to recognize the beginnings of wounded in his expression. "You mean back when--"
"Yeah, back when. It's like," and she hesitated. "I like it here, really. Never mind."
"Hey." He nudged her hand. "Tell me?"
She bit her lip and the pain let her say it. "Sometimes I wish my life weren't all of this," she said simply. "All about what I am. I wonder what it's like for Logan, getting to walk away."
"If I tell you one more thing, promise it's between us?"
Scott nodded silently and she wondered what she was doing, why she was telling him. Why she could tell him something she'd tried to guard even from Xavier's formerly probing mind. "My chance," she started, "sometimes I don't think of it as ending on the train, when Magneto...sometimes when I'm upset, it's later than that."
"When?" Scott asked. She got the feeling he already suspected.
She smiled weakly and looked away, because she couldn't look right at him. "Guess that brings us back to Logan. But...don't think I'm crazy or anything, okay? It's not a thing of wishing I'd died. It's...it's thinking that when I got bound up in this place."
"That's not always good," he prompted.
"No. But nothing is always anything, is it?"
Scott tapped his pen on the desk and sighed. "No, it's not."
She let it go at that. Scott understood her, and that was enough.
Magneto died on a Thursday evening, after nearly six years of plastic imprisonment, three weeks before he would have been 76.
And when Xavier mentioned it to her at breakfast on Friday, she could only press a gloved hand to his soft, gracious cheek. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and he looked so old right then. "He was a good friend, when he was a friend, wasn't he?"
(He was things betrayal won't let you forget, wasn't he?)
"That he was," Xavier agreed.
"He didn't hate you, you know," she murmured. "But he had to try, to be able to live after failing you. Because he wanted to be able to believe in you. He wanted that."
Xavier looked resignedly reminiscent. "I know, Rogue. Thank you, though."
She saw mortality etched into his form
(Death shouldn't be allowed to loiter. Come or go, come or go.)
and closed her eyes against the sight. "Do you still think of him as a friend?"
"When I think only of him, yes. We never fully let go of some things, Rogue. No matter what memories they're attached to."
And she thought of the little box she had upstairs; she thought of her mother's photo lying safe beneath a dusty set of dogtags. She thought of Scott, who would rub her back when it ached from hunching over ungraded tests, but who always got a certain look on his face when anyone talked about marriage. She wondered what had ever happened to Jean's ring.
"I was eight," Scott said, working in the garden.
Rogue snickered. "Scott, be serious."
"I'm dead serious. Ms. Adelbrite." He grinned lazily. "It's true, that your first love is forever. I still adore that woman. I used to pray that she would wait for me to grow up. Which, back then, I thought constituted passing into the fourth grade."
"And then happily ever after?"
"Something like that, yeah."
"What was she like?"
And Scott started laughing. "I have no idea. How well does any kid know their third-grade teacher? But I still loved her."
"What'd she look like, then?"
"A little like you, but older, in her forties. Perfectly classy, and she always had her hair in this loose bun. Dark, dark hair. I dreamed about seeing that hair down, and never did. And she wore great perfume... I would mess up my tests on purpose, so she would lean over and I could smell her while she explained things to me."
Rogue threw a clump of soil at him. "Dog."
"No way. I was a damn cute kid. I'll show you a picture sometime." Scott focused on planting for a minute, then glanced at her. "What about you?"
"I was adorable," she declared.
"Still are, but I meant, when was your first love?"
"Who says I've had one yet?"
"You have," he said. "You're a dreamer; dreamers fall in love sooner or later."
"You'll laugh," she muttered.
"I'm entitled. You laughed at me and poor Ms. Adelbrite."
"Mine wasn't when I was eight, Scott," she said quietly.
"Then I won't laugh."
She turned red and played with a small rock on the garden's trim. "Logan, okay?"
And Scott didn't make a sound, just stared at her and then touched her hand, and his stayed there, resting against the fabric of her glove. It felt nice, and she turned her palm up to let his fingers slip between hers. "I know you all thought I was just being a dumb kid," she finally added.
"Not dumb, but we didn't realize right away how serious you were," he admitted. "I remember the Professor cluing us in, reminding us that there was nothing light-hearted or youthful about knowing someone as well as you knew Logan."
"It certainly wasn't fun," she agreed, smiling ruefully. "Scott...he's not so healthy, is he?"
"Not so, no. But he's got plenty of time left."
"And when time's up? What happens here?"
Scott gave her hand a final squeeze and went back to planting, his face a determined mask. "We'll do what he have to do, Rogue. That's what 'here' is all about."
She closed her eyes some nights and thought about Logan. About the few days she'd known him, and about how she knew him, still. About the quiet fury he felt over his memory void, and about it hurting every time. About how she'd admitted it, to his memory and to herself, that he wasn't coming back.
She closed her eyes some night and thought about Scott, too. Scott, who almost never let anyone see the ways he hurt, who liked having horses at the school but never found the chance to ride. Scott, who had loved Jean but spent his time with Rogue now, and who didn't seem ready to lose a man whose days were counting down. Who slept next door, and who lately looked at her like her skin was an obstacle it shouldn't be between friends.
She thought about Scott more nights than not, recently.
There was a point when Xavier got sick, truly sick, and then there was a point when Jean had to bring him down to the medlab instead of treating him in his room. Rogue watched with Storm as Scott
(stiff, stiff Scott; you'd think the world was ending)
and two senior boys eased the small rolling bed through the halls and down to the lower levels. She watched and she realized she wouldn't be able to tell if Scott cried behind his visor.
Nobody saw Jean for three days, but then Rogue woke up to gentle shaking and Jean looked sick, herself. It was January and it was snowing; Rogue caught glimpses of it out the window on the way downstairs. She thought about it being a bit of the sky falling, which seemed appropriate.
Scott was slumped over one of Jean's worktables in the medlab, and he barely glanced up when they came in. Storm was leaning over Xavier, whispering softly, but she stopped when Jean gently touched her shoulders. Her face was wet with tears
(falling, everything falling; Scott's gonna fall)
when she looked at Rogue. With a weak smile, she stepped back. "I'm... I need some air," she mumbled.
Jean nodded, at both of them. "Just a minute or so, okay?" she told Rogue.
And Rogue took Xavier's hand and it trembled, and yes, indeed, here was the world at the end. "Professor?" she whispered, leaning close. "You're awake?"
He nodded slightly, eyes closed, and she gazed at him. "I don't know what to say," she finally murmured. "I don't know how to choose." She squeezed his hand carefully. "You know, you're one of those things."
"Things?" Xavier asked, and coughed slightly.
"Yeah." She leaned in as close as she dared, her lips right next to his ear. "None of us will ever let you go, old friend."
He smiled at that. "Rogue, Rogue...still proving it, I see."
"Proving what, Professor?"
"You've never needed skin to touch, my dear." He let out a rattling sigh. "Scott... Jean..."
Rogue pressed the fleetingest of kisses to his cheek and then slipped away to get Jean and Scott, and ten minutes later Jean looked up at her and nodded bleakly. Then she took slow, careful steps into her office and the door clicked hollowly as it closed.
And Scott stood still, his back to Rogue, and he didn't move for the longest time. "Scott?" she forced herself to ask. "Scott, should I--"
"Wait," he stopped her. "I-- Breakfast starts in an hour. Can you announce that there will be an assembly at nine?"
"Yes," she whispered. "Do you need anything? Either of you?"
Scott finally turned around, and she'd never before been consciously glad that she couldn't see his eyes. "No," he said quietly. "I'll be up in his office figuring some things out, if you need to find me."
"Okay," she managed. She hoped she didn't need to find him for a good long while.
It was a beautiful day, cold and crisp and clean, and she went out to the pastures to lean on the fence and watch the horses. At the end of the field and a few yards off, she could see the simple headstone, quiet and gray against the snow. The ground had been hard and frozen, nearly impossible to breach, but Scott had done it. She knew he'd had to.
Xerxes came and nudged her shoulder, and she scratched his ears until he moved on. And a few minutes later, arms slipped around her waist; Scott was tall and solid against her back. "Aren't you cold?" he asked.
"I'm okay." She leaned back against him. "Are you?"
He didn't answer, but she didn't think it was really a no. His arms tightened around her and his breath chased the cold away in a damp gust through the curtain of her hair, and she could feel his lips moving against her ear. Gently arrhythmic motions, not enough to weasel through and find bare skin, and she sighed and rubbed her hands against his forearms.
"Scott," she murmured. "Where're we going with this?"
He rested his chin on her shoulder. "You need a decision now?"
"I need to know if you can decide." She slipped in his arms, turned around and ran her fingers over the frames of his lighter glasses. "Anything, you know?"
"I know," he said quietly. "I've already decided some things."
"Like...that I made some promises to the Professor and I'm going to keep them. That I may not be the man he was, but I loved him and I loved his dream, and we're going to keep going." He ran his thumb, encased in soft fleece, over her cheek. "That I've loved Jean for so long, but it's time to let her go, because I think I'm able to love someone else."
"Is that enough for you? For now?"
And she smiled softly and stretched up to quickly catch his lips. At his surprised look, she shrugged. "When it's cold, things slow down. I think we've got a little time -- for now."
Once, she looked up into the sun, even though she knew she wasn't supposed to. And afterwards, for what seemed like eternity jammed into a few hours, she saw spots. Glittering black and green spots, hovering over her eyes and branding her view.
And she got scared, and wondered if she would go blind. Or worse, if they would never go away, because seeing nothing at all seemed preferable to always having whatever she saw tainted by a mistake. But she got distracted, and when she paid attention once again, the spots were gone.
Once, she opened her eyes and was being touched, saved, and once, it started happening when she was wide awake. Once, she told Scott she loved him. He smiled at that, and she felt completely sure it reached his eyes.